Righting America

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Undergraduate Insights on Ark Encounter | Righting America

Compiled by Susan Trollinger

University of Dayton students visit Ark Encounter. Image by Susan Trollinger, 2024.

This spring, I taught a class in which we devoted a unit to studying the arguments and visual/material rhetorics of Protestant fundamentalism. We enjoyed the wisdom of scholars of fundamentalism who visited us in person or via Zoom, including William Trollinger, Jr, Jason Hentschel, and Sean Martin. At the end of that unit, we made a trip to Ark Encounter, or the Ark Park, in Kentucky that features a life-size re-creation of the Ark described in Genesis. And the class period after that visit, I asked my students  to reflect on their experiences. Below, you will read some of the very insightful comments they shared. They know that I am putting together this post. I offered anonymity to anyone who wanted that. None requested it. So, I am using their first names. I have arranged their responses topically.

First Impressions

“I was surprised that I got my tiny purse checked by a security guard, and he joked: ‘Are you hiding a Glock in here?’ I was also surprised how expensive the tickets were and that they were selling season passes.” Gabriella

“I am a little confused by the message AiG wants to send, because they market the Ark as a place of entertainment rather than a museum where you can learn their truth. Maybe that’s so you feel like you can lower your guard so you ask fewer question about their exhibits.” Kate

“As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, the Ark was visible through a gap between trees, which I think was intentional. Its size is shocking itself, but the way it is positioned to be seen from the parking lot make the Ark almost seem holy and hugely important.” Megan

Inside Deck 1 of Ark Encounter. Photo by Susan Trollinger, 2024.

Deck One

“I think the purpose of Deck 1 is to build tension within the visitors. When I first walked in, I was bombarded with the sheer amount of sound that they were playing over speakers. The sounds of waves and raging storms created anxiety in me, and hearing the squeaks of animals solidified a feeling of dread in me. I think they wanted to place visitors in emotional vulnerability, which is easily achieved through fear and tension.” Rachel

“As for the exhibits on Deck 1 themselves, it was hilarious to me that all of the non-existent creatures were labeled as ‘presumed extinct’ instead of extinct, implying that these animals could still exist somewhere humans have not found.” Alex

Image of Noah at his desk in Ark Encounter. Photo by Susan Trollinger, 2024.


Ava wrote about a short film in which Adah, a woman skeptical of Noah’s prediction of the Flood and his building of the Ark, interrogates Noah. 

The ethos of Noah is an ethos of a good moral character, industrious, and empathetic. Above all, he is a character driven by his belief in God. . . . I am a skeptic, and one who is in a class that is specifically focused on examining Protestant fundamentalist rhetoric. So, I cannot see this as an effective representation of Noah. I am only led to wonder why Noah is depicted in this way, and why the sinners surrounding him seem to be more caricatures than characters.

Display of Children’s Books about Noah’s Ark inside Ark Encounter. Photo by Susan Trollinger, 2024.

Exhibit on Noah’s Ark Children’s Books

“This display is intended to discredit the children’s literature that paints Noah’s Ark as lighthearted. AiG claims such retellings of the Ark are not harmless . . . .One mother remarked to her son, ‘as you can see, people think the Ark was a great thing, but it was a monstrous event that we all should have gone through.’  I had to ask myself, ‘isn’t Ark Encounter an attraction and fairy tale?’ With every floor came a gift shop, souvenir cups to purchase, donation links on posters, and concession stands.” Alexandria

Figure of a woman pondering God’s judgment. Photo by Susan Trollinger, 2024.

The Door

“I found it interesting that an exhibit displaying a woman [one of Noah’s daughters-in-law] having an existential crisis, pondering the cruelty and implications of her reality, was also next to a fun tourism picture site (the Door]. Other parts of the museum stress the importance of depicting the severity of the Flood, so it was jarring to see them do the exact opposite in this scene. I can’t imagine believing in the story of the Flood and being like, ‘this is the door that separates everything on the Ark from everything drowning and dying outside—let’s get a picture!’” Maya

Visitors take photos at the Door of the Ark. Photo by Susan Trollinger, 2024.

“I think the Keepsake Photo site with the Ark’s door is totally indoctrinating propaganda meant to argue that the YEC Christian Right is divinely ordained and has supreme authority. The photo is literally meant to instill a sense of confidence in the museumgoer that they are on the right side of history, that God backs them up, and that everyone else is drowning in a flood. . . . this exhibit is meant to say ‘God killed them all because they were sinners! But you’re not a sinner! Get a photo . . . to prove that God loves you and you would have been saved if you lived back when the Flood happened.’” Matthew

“The door seemed like something designed to strengthen people’s beliefs, like a prize of the visit. The large door with the cross on it may represent a doorway or wall between many worlds or states of existence, perhaps alluded to by themes of exclusion, safety, or salvation.” Dylan

Inside the Ark Encounter’s display of Living Quarters for Noah and His Family. Photo by Susan Trollinger, 2024.

Living Quarters

“If the living quarters were as nice as they are made out to be at Ark Encounter, that would stand in strong contrast to the rest of the Ark, which is cramped, dimly lit, noisy and probably smelly. One has to wonder why God would subject all the animals . . . to cramped cages with no room to roam, and grant Noah and his family a nice living area where they can walk freely.” Ava

“Something that really struck me was how their living quarters seemed so modern. These living quarters did not appear to be those of someone that lived over 4,000 years ago.” Natalie

“Building on the claustrophobia of Deck I, Deck 3 was almost luxurious, almost as if it was trying to present Noah’s family as rewarded for being worthy of boarding the Ark. It almost felt narcissistic that the humans get so much attention to what they would be doing on the Ark compared to the rest of the species.” Ian

Twin placards describing Noah’s Family and noting Artistic License of Ark Encounter. Photo by Susan Trollinger, 2024.

Artistic License

“I was intrigued by the multitude of placards entitled ‘Artistic License’ as a justification for AiG to take liberties and bend the story from the original Genesis narrative. AiG heavily addresses a literal interpretation of the Bible. Who are we as sinners to enhance and add to the word of God that they believe has no errors?” Alexandria

Groups of families visit Ark Encounter. Photo by Susan Trollinger, 2024.


“The most interesting behavior that I noted was between young children and their parents. The children that I heard talking, for the most part, were pretty bored and skeptical of the whole affair. They asked a lot of questions about this and that, or just complained about the place as a whole.” Ava

“I saw a lot of elderly couples and families with young children. The families often explained exhibits to their children. Everyone was taking pictures. I wondered what they would do with the pictures of all the placards. Also, the shirts that said “Need an Ark? I Noah guy.” Gabriella

Final Thoughts

“For a place so focused on biblical inerrancy, there were so many plaques about artistic interpretations of stories of the Bible. This plays into the ideals of patching the holes of the Bible that fundamentalists try to suppress. This Ark is a place that is meant to act as a wow factor. With a majestic size, impressive architecture, and striking exhibits, this encounter is meant to be memorable even if one does not believe or support the message.” Caleb

“Overall, the experience at Ark Encounter left me with malaise. It was an incredibly educational experience but quite unsettling. The devotion to these ideas on paper is different from seeing them in person. Specifically, the number of young families just left me a gross feeling because these ideas will continue to be perpetuated.” John

It’s easy to imagine that young adults from the ages of 18 to 22 (or thereabouts) have a lot to learn. And perhaps they do. They are also incredibly insightful. I am grateful to all of them for sharing with me their observations and interpretations of Ark Encounter. I hope you found them interesting too!

I thank the College of Arts and Sciences, the Core program at UD, the English Department, and a grant from ELIFF (that supports experiential learning at UD) for making it possible for these students to experience Protestant fundamentalism in 3D. Their insights may tell us a lot about why the White Christian Right is worried about attrition among young adults.